Virchows Arch. 2022 Aug 1. doi: 10.1007/s00428-022-03387-4. Online ahead of print.
Human epididymis protein 4 (HE4) is originally described as an epididymis specific protein and now clinically used as a serum marker for ovarian carcinoma. However, the expression of HE4 in neuroendocrine neoplasms (NENs) has not been studied. By immunohistochemistry, the expressions of HE4 in 94 normal tissues and 484 NENs which included 242 well-differentiated NENs and 242 poorly differentiated NENs were studied. HE4 was positive in 90/94 (95.7%) of the neuroendocrine cells in normal tissues, 228/242 (94.2%) of well-differentiated NENs, and 206/242 (85.1%) of poorly differentiated NENs, and the expression of HE4 decreased progressively with loss of histological differentiation, with the positive rate of 96.2%, 92.7%, 92.3%, 85.4%, and 84.4% in NET-G1/carcinoid, NET-G2/atypical carcinoid, NET-G3, NEC-LC, and NEC-SC respectively. In NET-G1 and NET-G2, HE4 staining showed a peculiar polarized distribution, with an extraordinarily strong granular staining in subnuclear cytoplasm. A diffuse and uniform cytoplastic HE4 staining was observed in NET-G3 and poorly differentiated NENs. The positive rate of HE4 in primary tumors (91.1%, 387/425) was significantly higher than that of metastases (79.7%, 47/59) (p < 0.05). In a series of 70 pure non-NENs poorly differentiated carcinomas, the specificity rate of HE4 was 92.9% (65/70), which was in line with that of Syn. The negative rate of HE4 was 87.0% (40/46) in the non-neuroendocrine components of the MiNEN cases, which was lower than that of the pure non-neuroendocrine carcinomas (92.9%, 65/70) but without statistical significance (p > 0.05). HE4 may prove to be a useful immunohistochemical marker of neuroendocrine differentiation, although comparative studies and a more extensive analysis of other tissue types are necessary.